The New Culture of Sharing


One of my most interesting encounters with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs happened when I met around two years ago Neal Gorenflo who participated my workshop in Palo Alto. Back in early years of 2000, he was a highly successful business executive in Wall Street, leading busy life and making a lot of money. In one of his business trips to Europe something curious happened: he got a total mental breakdown in a parking lot in Brussels. He realized that the life he had lived was devoid of any meaning that would be worth living. He was sick and tired of doing work that was based on greed and selfish operations. Then and there he decided to change his life completely.

He moved to Mountain View, California and started to work on his true passion, which was building bridges for communities to flourish. He established Shareable, a digital platform, where different initiatives –private or public- around community building can be brought to daylight and progressed. His pioneering work has fared well: Shareable has been highly successful, making thousands and thousands of people to share their ideas and practices for a more sustainable and livable future. It has been a dynamo around Silicon Valley for countless new activities –some strictly non-profit, some more business orientated –for building new culture of sharing.

In my theory about emerging sixth wave – new socio-economic era – culture will have a very particular role. In fact, it will have a decisive role since without the proper culture we are not going to get anywhere to meet the greatest challenge we currently have: how to use more intelligently our precious resources, be they natural resources that are dwindling as we speak, or human resources that we are currently also wasted in massive quantities.

We need new culture of sharing and it is highly interesting that Silicon Valley is leading that development taken its fame as a place where individuals make fortunes. Nowhere else can we find such a rich scheme of new initiatives and businesses that follow the principle of sharing. And mind you, this is not something nice but marginal hobby of hippies. Airbnb was a invention of couple of students that shared their flats for conference participants because all the hotels around their venue in San Francisco were full.  Today the company they build after that first experience counts as the largest hotel chain in the world.

Silicon Valley is the platform for this new culture for two particular reasons: The very idea of sharing is something people easily related to: if you really look hard what makes Silicon Valley still the most dynamic hub in the world for new businesses it is the way people share their ideas and are able to work together. Secondly, it is still the melting pot of new technologies to grow and this new sharing culture use extensively new, often digital technologies to enable and catapult sharing in different forms.

Here in Europe our question should be: are we ready for the culture of sharing? Do our culture, institutions and indeed our ways of life support sharing? How much do we see sharing in our ways of doing business? Essentially every working partnership is sharing so again, please do not take this as some weird and extreme issue. Sharing is already here. It is also well known that in times of trouble new kind of sharing often emerges.

In fact, some of the most successful businesses in our times are based on sharing. Just think of google: you do not pay anything while using google so the company essentially shares its know-how with you.  Of course it is no accident that this company has grown from Silicon Valley. In fact digital technologies themselves are often great booster of sharing practices.

It is actually quite interesting what this sharing often produces: the more you give away, the more you get back, in time. If this is the success formula of the future, it will challenge our current thinking and practices, our very idea of how economy and society works. And my hunch is that with new generations to come, for them this kind of thinking falls much more naturally.

There is actually a bit more than just a hunch: last week I read of research in Finland targeted to identify values of different age groups that showed clearly that values expressed by younger generation are very different to those of older age-group. They tend to emphasize the values of self-expression and rethinking. Both these values actually in their own manner pave way for sharing: sharing can be a powerful tool for self-expression and our current competition-geared culture asks nothing more than rethinking.

So sharing is coming, watch out! What did you share lately?